The race to 'add value to the community'

Tim Metcalfe

The Hong Kong Jockey Club today continues its 'everyone's a winner' tradition with the announcement of one of the biggest scholarship schemes financed by the proceeds of horse-racing.

Not only is it funding degree scholarships at SAR universities and institutions for the first time, the club is making it possible for students from the mainland, as well as locals, to complete their education in the SAR.

Under a 10-year 'Building for the Future' programme, funding will be provided for 26 students every year - three from each of the SAR's eight University Grants Committee-funded institutions, along with two from the Academy for Performing Arts.

With a total commitment of $102 million, the Jockey Club Scholarship Scheme is the most prestigious awarded by the club's Charities Trust.

The latest scholarships are worth $290,000 each over three years for community-minded, talented students and continue a custom of returning racing revenue to deserving community and charity programmes that dates back almost to the founding of the club in 1884.

During the last 25 years, especially since the start of professional racing and off-course betting, that tradition had become the 'envy of the world', the club's director of charities and corporate services, David Yau, said.

Mr Yau said the fact that a recent poll found more people associated the club with hospitals and schools, rather than racing, was 'the best possible vindication for the club's model of racing for charity, and the mutual win- win it has provided for both the community and racing here'.

That contribution is so enormous that few could imagine where Hong Kong might be today without it. While 82.5 per cent of reve nue is paid in winnings, 12 per cent is paid in government duty - which is spent on the community - and after deducting operating costs the remainder is directly allocated to worthy causes.

During the last decade alone, charity and community donations have amounted to nearly US$1.2 billion. Incredibly, last year's dona tions worth US$142 million would rank the club among the top 10 US charities. At the same time, betting duty and tax was US$1.6 billion - nearly a tenth of all the Government's tax revenue.

Such support has funded the entire range of community facilities, from community centres and clinics to long-term help for charities, the elderlyand the handicapped, the Hong Kong Sports Institute, numerous parks, sports centres, including the Hong Kong Stadium, the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and Ocean Park.

Throughout, the club has tended to step in and help deserving projects which the Government has been unable to afford - and nowhere has that support been more crucial than in education. In the 1950s, as Hong Kong's economy battled to recover from World War II, the club helped to establish primary schools.

During the 1960s, when further education options were limited, it built technical colleges and began a continuing programme of sup porting schools for children with special needs, as well as a scholarship fund for children from poor families.

By the affluent 1980s, it could afford to allocate resources to 'all-round education' with the Academy for Performing Arts, the Sports Institute and the Ti-I College for gifted athletes and artistic talents.

In the 1990s, when higher education facilities were required, it funded the University of Science and Technology (worth $5 billion alone), the Open University, and campus developments required for the tertiary upgrading of polytechnics and colleges. Aided by the Jockey Club, the Government's tertiary education programme has also grown rapidly during the last few years.

'Unlike elsewhere, where racing revenue goes into someone else's pocket,' Mr Yau said, 'in Hong Kong it all goes back to the community. Even if you lose at the races, you are making life that much better.

'We like to say we add value to the community.'